Elkem

Find out how a leading advanced materials manufacturer utilized an innovation program powered by Wazoku to collect, prioritize, and action ideas within their organization. 

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Elkem, one of the world’s leading providers of advanced materials solutions, works towards the environmentally responsible manufacture of metals and materials. With a business that combines raw materials, renewable energy, and human ingenuity, the company worked with Wazoku to develop its culture of innovation, prioritize and implement ideas, and remove silos to better collaborate worldwide

“By combining our people’s natural innovative skills with a purpose-built platform from Wazoku, Elkem has given every employee a voice in our problem solving and opportunity scouting.”

Louis Vovelle
SVP Innovation and R&D at Elkem AS

Over a Century of Innovation and Sustainability in Materials Technology

Since its founding in 1904, Elkem’s main mission has been to develop new products, markets, and production methods. In order to achieve this, the company has had an ambitious innovation strategy for more than 110 years: 

  • In 1918 Elkem patented the Söderberg electrode, a continuous processing method that meant furnaces did not have to cool down and stop production when previous electrodes needed replacing. Even 100 years later, this innovation is still used in underwater arc furnaces worldwide. 
  • Over the 1970s, Elkem installed a filter technology to scrub emissions from silicon plants: removing an emissions problem and identifying novel uses for the silicon dust. The authorities subsequently made scrubbing a statutory requirement for these plants. 
  • Elkem Solar, established in 2009, produces super-pure silicon for the solar cell industry, using just a quarter of the energy consumed by its competitors. This saving makes solar energy even cheaper to produce, and solar power an even more climate friendly option. 

An Insight into Our Employee-Driven Idea Platform

In 2016, Elkem formalized this company history of leadership and invention with the creation of an innovation team. Across business units in silicon, carbon, and other partner companies, Elkem wanted the ability to capture the best ideas from their employees. The organization uses a global idea platform – powered by Wazoku – to capture, categorize, and move forward with these ideas where possible.

In order for an employee’s suggestion to have the best chance of making it to reality, Elkem needed a way to clarify and categorize the ideas that came in. By sorting ideas across reputation, strategy, revenue, market development, customer satisfaction, cost optimization, environment and health & safety, both the idea creator and evaluator know what it is referring to – and therefore how much budget, resource, or time can be apportioned to it.

With over 70 Challenges run, Elkem splits these challenges into always-on, campaign, and short-term: depending on the need for that division at that time. In 2021 and 2022, the specific Challenges with the most ideas were around Circular Economy, Digitalization, Technology Scouting, and Material purchasing. For the Circular Economy Challenge in 2021, the team took the 86 ideas submitted and are now implementing between 10 and 20 to contribute to Elkem’s sustainability strategy.

A combined marketing and sales challenge for Elkem Silicon Products was by far the most popular of the more general idea spaces: showing employees have numerous rich and diverse ideas to share across different role types. Ideas in this box are 90% around the product and about 10% on service innovations. The innovation team at Elkem monitors the time it takes for an idea to be processed and evaluated or implemented – the transparency and speed of the program gives employees more trust in the program.

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Ideas

15

Divisional, Cross division, and plant idea spaces

70

Challenges run

Harnessing Employee Ideas for Continuous Improvement and Radical Change

Elkem’s innovation strategy covers the range of projects undertaken by the company. In different units, some projects will require intense R&D, others might need continuous improvement to bring about the best results – the innovation strategy also speaks to this range. Across incremental innovation, step change innovation, and radical improvements, employees could use the Elkem global idea platform to give ideas that further Elkem’s innovation goals. 

Continuous improvement is an important KPI across the organization: small, incremental innovations from employees describing the potential, finding the solutions, and measuring the results helps to keep the company competitive. Step change innovation is found when Elkem looks for future growth opportunities by monitoring market trends. In this area, working groups across marketing, tech, and R&D support front-end innovation and product development to explore potential areas. For radical improvements, Elkem is keen to remain in position as a world-leading materials producer and so invests in research and the invention of new markets to find the next big thing.

 

 

Analyzing the Outcomes of Elkem Silicon Products’ Idea Challenge

To dive down into the numbers of one Challenge, the Elkem Silicon Products general marketing ideas box, just over 1,300 ideas were submitted into the platform. Of those, 45% had either already been implemented, were outside of Silicon’s scope, or were not yet technically feasible in the market. A further 8% were put on hold as the A3 was not yet ready to move forward, with 3% in backlog as the A3 was complete but the project was not yet resourced.  

260, or 19% of these ideas, were solved and finalized on the Wazoku Platform. These were either ideas that formed ‘just do it’ tasks or were part of other projects’ scope so could be actioned and tracked entirely on the platform itself. 6% of ideas have been approved as projects and added to project portfolios. These will then be tracked across the idea’s lifetime in Elkem, from initial proposal to final implementation and impact.  

“Inspiring our people to solve problems – big and small – continues our proud 100+ years of innovation. Keeping people motivated in our innovation is a key part of my role, and users on the Elkem idea platform have risen every quarter since the partnership began in 2019.”

Rannveig Jóhannsdóttir
Production Manager at Elkem

The role of Wazoku

Elkem’s global idea platform, powered by Wazoku, provides the net where the innovation team can capture ideas from all around the world. In-depth social and collaboration features mean that the best ideas can be nurtured, evaluated, and placed in an ideas portfolio for assigning the resources to implement them. 

With divisional and cross-divisional fields, Elkem can easily share and find the right sponsor for each idea – helping to plan and resource more efficiently. Wazoku also helps the divisions with the process of constructing their Challenges, ensuring that the wording can bring the right solutions to various business problems. 

Future plans

Elkem want to establish a co-creation community to securely and easily collaborate in spaces with internal teams, external partners, and the supply chain. The innovation team is also beginning work on open innovation Challenges, to launch one internationally and internally. This cross-functional Challenge will be based around finding problem areas to follow up on at a later date.  

Beyond these steps forward, Elkem are keen to develop the Wazoku platform for various divisions and functions, as well as bolstering employee engagement and running more diverse campaigns. 

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